Is ‘Love’ Really an Ingredient?

Is 'Love' Really an Ingredient?

Our intentions play a huge role in everything we do. But is “love” — yes, actual love — really a food ingredient? How does it taste?

If you’re a label reader, you’ve likely seen “love” added to more than a few of your favorite products: Fizzy kombuchas, creamy chocolates, cereal and snack brands often add this intangible element to their products. But it’s gratuitous and useless, says Jen Doll in The Atlantic, “Love is not an actual ingredient; it cannot go in one’s brownies, one’s spaghetti, one’s ‘faux’ gras. Nor is respect, enthusiasm, whimsy, irritation, lust, crankiness, or ‘a bad mood’ something that makes food taste any different.”

Even the FDA has said love doesn’t count as a food ingredient, and claiming it’s in a recipe is cause for warning letters and even fines.

But should we intentionally try not to add love to our foods? Be impartial chefs when making soup for sick family members or cookies for Santa?

In Aimee Bender’s 2010 novel, “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake,” the story’s protagonist can taste much more than the physical ingredients she bites into. Sadness, frustration, concern, guilt, anger, love—if the person who made the food was feeling any strong emotion, Rose Edelstein can taste it. She becomes overwhelmed by this sensitivity to such a paralyzing point that she opts instead for ersatz factory-made food, void of human interaction. It’s a novel, of course, but it illustrates the potential our growing sensitivities hold. Isn’t the saying “you are what you eat” for good reason? And one could also argue that our lack of food “made with love” since the advent of industry and packaged foods corresponds with our rise in diseases, depression, and loneliness.

The fact is, we know relatively little when it comes to those invisible, intangible energies that pass between humans, especially along our food chain. Beyond the chemical reactions triggered by pheromones that make us want to lunge into the laps of virtual strangers, we can also “sense” other things, like when someone’s in a bad mood or even lying. And as we continue down the evolutionary road, we’ll likely be able to sense quite a bit more as well–that is, unless our diet continues to be void of healthful and human-made food that connects us to the earth and each other, in more ways than one.

If more people are beginning to become aware of the reasons why we should move away from diets that not only harm our bodies, but also harm the environment and other animals, then why can’t we also appreciate the addition of “love” to a product even if we don’t think we can actually taste it? Isn’t that changing our relationship with food, even if we’re not quite sure how yet? Perhaps the one really important ingredient missing for many of us is not so much love, but a little bit more imagination.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.